1.2 The Work of the Commission

Part: 
Two
Chapter: 
1

We have attempted to conduct as thorough an investigation as our severe budgetary and time constraints permitted. The budgetary constraints have limited the size of our staff, and have prevented us from commissioning independent research. We especially regret the inability to commission independent research, because in many cases our deliberations have enabled us to formulate issues, questions, and hypotheses in ways that are either more novel or more precise than those reflected in the existing thinking about this subject, yet our budgetary constraints have kept us from testing these hypotheses or answering these questions. In numerous places throughout this report we have urged further research, and we often recommend that research take place along specific lines. We hope that our suggestions will be taken up by researchers. Neither this Report nor any other should be taken as definitive and final, and we consider our suggestions for further research along particular lines to be one of the most important parts of this document.

The time constraints have also been significant. We all wish we could have had much more time for continued discussion among ourselves, as the process of deliberation among people of different backgrounds, different points of view, and different areas of expertise has been perhaps the most fruitful part of our task. Yet we have been required to produce a report within a year of our creation as a Commission, and our ability to meet together has been limited by the budgetary constraints just referred to, as well as by the fact that all of us have responsibilities to our jobs, our careers, and to our families that make it impossible to suspend every other activity in which we are engaged for the course of a year.

Despite these limitations, we have attempted to be as careful and as thorough as humanly possible within the boundaries of these constraints. We thought it especially important to hear from as wide a range of perspectives as possible, and as a result held public hearings and meetings in Washington, D.C., from June 18 to 20, 1985; in Chicago, Illinois, from July 23 to 25, 1985; in Houston, Texas, from September 10 to 12, 1985; in Los Angeles, California, from October 15 to 18, 1985; in Miami, Florida, from November 19 to 22, 1985; and in New York City from January 21 to 24, 1986. With the exception of the initial hearing in Washington, each of the hearings had a central theme, enabling us to hear together those people whose testimony related to the same issue. Thus the hearings in Chicago focused on the law, law enforcement, and the constraints of the First Amendment; in Houston we concentrated on the behavioral sciences, hearing from psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, and others who have been clinically or experimentally concerned with examining the relationship between pornography and human behavior; in Los Angeles our primary concern was the production side of the industry, and we heard testimony from those who were knowledgeable about or involved in the process of producing, distributing, and marketing pornographic materials; in Miami most of our time was spent dealing with the issue of child pornography, and we heard from people who in either their professional or personal capacities had familiarity with the creation, consequences, or legal control of child pornography; and in New York we heard about organized crime and its relationship with the production, distribution, and sale of pornographic materials.

Although these hearings each had their specific concentration, we also attempted to hear people throughout the country who wished to address us on these and many other issues, and one of the reasons for conducting hearings in different cities in various parts of the country was precisely to give the greatest opportunity for the expression of views by members of the public. Time did not permit us to hear everyone who desired to speak to us, but we have tried as best we could to allow a large number of people to provide information and to express their opinions. The information provided and the opinions expressed represented a wide range of perspectives and views on the issues before us. Many of the people appearing before us were professionals, who because of their training and experiences could enlighten us on matters that would otherwise have been beyond our knowledge. Many people represented particular points of view, and we are glad that varying positions have been so ably presented to us. And many others have been members of the public who only wished to represent themselves, relating either points of view or personal experiences. All of this testimony has been valuable, although we recognize its limitations. These limitations will be discussed throughout this report, although there is one that deserves to be highlighted in this introductory section. That is the distortion that has been the inevitable consequence of the fact that some pornography is illegal, and much pornography is, regardless of legality or illegality, still considered by many people to be harmful, offensive, or in some other way objectionable. As a result, legal as well as social constraints may distort the sample, in that they severely limit the willingness of many people to speak publicly in favor of pornography. This phenomenon may have been somewhat counterbalanced by the financial resources available to many of those from the publishing and entertainment industries who warned us of the dangers of any or most forms of censorship. But the point remains that various dynamics are likely to skew the sample available to us. In evaluating the oral evidence, we have thus been mindful of the fact that the proportion of people willing to speak out on a particular subject, and from a particular point of view, may not be a fully accurate barometer of the extent that certain views are in fact held by the population at large.

Many of the limitations that surround oral testimony lessen considerably when written submissions are used, and we have made every effort to solicit written submissions both from those who testified before us and from those who did not. We have relied heavily on these, in part because they represent the views of those who could not testify before us, and in part because they frequently explored issues in much greater depth than would be possible in a brief period of oral testimony.

The written submissions we received constitute but a miniscule fraction of all that has been written about pornography. While it would not be accurate to say that each of us has read all or even a majority of the available literature, we have of course felt free to go beyond the written submissions and consult that which has been published on the subject, and much of what is contained in this report is a product of the fact that many thoughtful people have been contemplating the topic of pornography for a long time. To ignore this body of knowledge would be folly, and we have instead chosen to rely on more information rather than less. We could not have responsibly conducted our inquiry without spending a considerable period of time examining the materials that constitute the subject of this entire endeavor. Engaging in this part of our task has been no more edifying for us than it is for those judges who have the constitutional duty to review materials found at trial to be legally obscene.[2] Obviously, however, it was an essential part of our job, and many witnesses provided to us for examination during our hearings and deliberations samples of motion pictures, video tapes, magazines, books, slides, photographs, and other media containing sexually explicit material in all of its varied forms. In addition, when in Houston we visited three different establishments specializing in this material, and in that way were able to supplement the oral and written testimony with our own observations of the general environment in which materials of this variety are frequently sold.

In addition to our public hearings, we have also had public working sessions devoted to discussing the subject, our views on it, and possible findings, conclusions, and recommendations. These working sessions occupied part of our time when we were in Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York, and in addition we met solely for these purposes in Scottsdale, Arizona, from February 26 to March 1, 1986, and in Washington, D.C., from April 29 to May 2, 1986. As we look back on these sessions, there is little doubt that we have all felt the constraints of deliberating in public. It can hardly be disputed that the exploration of tentative ideas is more difficult when public exposure treats the tentative as final, and the question as a challenge. Still, we feel that we have explored a wide range of points of view, and an equally wide range of vantage points from which to look at the problem of pornography. As with any inquiry, more could be done if there were more time, but we are all satisfied with the depth and breadth of the inquiries in which we have engaged. When faced with shortages of time, we have chosen to say here less than we might have been able to say had we had more time for our work, but we are convinced that saying no more than our inquiries and deliberations justify is vastly preferable to paying for time shortages in the currency of quality or the currency of accuracy. Thus, given the many constraints we operated under, we believe this Report adequately reflects both those constraints and the thoroughness with which we have attempted to fulfill our mandate.

Finally, we owe thanks to all those who have assisted us in our work. Although in another part of this Report we express our gratitude more specifically, we wish here to note our appreciation to an extraordinarily diligent staff, to numerous public officials and private citizens who have spent much of their own time and their own money to provide us with information, and especially to a large number of witnesses who appeared before us at great sacrifice and often at the expense of having to endure great personal anguish. To all of these people and others, we give our thanks, and we willingly acknowledge that we could not have completed our mission without them.

Notes

  1. "We are tied to the 'absurd business of perusing and viewing the miserable stuff that pours into the Court . . Interstate Circuit, Inc. v. Dallas, 390 U.S., at 707 (separate opinion of Harlan, J.). While the material may have varying degrees of social importance, it is hardly a source of edification to the members of this Court who are compelled to view it before passing on its obscenity." Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton, 413 U.S. 49, 92-93(1973) (Brennan, J., dissenting).